Inquiry into US spying on bank transactions
26 June 2006, BRUSSELS — Justice Minister Laurette Onkelinx has responded with surprise to revelations late last week that the US government was able to examine international financial transactions over several years as part of its so-called war on terror.
26 June 2006
BRUSSELS — Justice Minister Laurette Onkelinx has responded with surprise to revelations late last week that the US government was able to examine international financial transactions over several years as part of its so-called war on terror.
The Socialist PS minister said she was "completely unaware" of the practice. Her ministry said on Saturday that the security service VS-SE and the federal police money laundering unit (CFI in Dutch) will now investigate the matter.
It emerged on Friday that the US government has had access to international bank transations since the 11 September terrorist attacks in 2001. The information is supplied by Swift, an international association of financial institutes based in Brussels.
The Interior Ministry "officially denied" that the minister was aware of the US practices, first revealed by several US newspapers.
"The minister was, just as the prime minister, completely unaware. She only heard it on Friday, via the media," Onkelinx' spokesman said.
Consequently, Onkelinx requested a complete report about the matter, both from the VS-SE and the CFI. The federal police unit was also was also asked to draw up a legal analysis of the situation.
Financial institutes in Belgium are obligated by law to report suspicious transactions to the CFI in an effort to prevent money laundering and the financing of terrorism.
The National Bank of Belgium (NBB) confirmed on Saturday it was aware of the fact that US authorities could examine transactions via Swift. The NBB released an official statement after media reports broke on Friday.
But an NBB spokesman refused to confirm when the reserve bank was informed about Swift's actions, revealing only that it was informed in an informal manner via its contacts with the firm.
The NBB said further it saw no ethical problems in Swift's actions. Despite the fact Swift had to comply with various standards to ensure a smooth working of the financial sector, the NBB also said America's espionage tactics did not place the sector's operations at threat.
[Copyright Expatica News 2006]
Subject: Belgian news